THERE can be few more instantly recognisable forms in English furniture than the Windsor chair. Since the early 1970s, Michael Harding-Hill has been well known as an authority on the subject, publishing ‘Windsor Chairs, An Illustrated Celebration’, a book which pictures many examples that passed through his hands over many decades as a dealer.
Along with Robert Parrott, a retired scientist and council member of the Regional Furniture Society, Michael has poured his expertise into curating an academic loan exhibition on the subject, Windsors at West Wycombe: A Definitive Exhibition of 18th Century English Windsor Chairs, which runs from May 6-31 at West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire - a fitting venue as the surrounding area has been synonymous with the manufacture of Windsor chairs from the late 18th to the mid 20th century.
The exhibition is the largest ever of its kind and gathers together a tightly edited group of 35 exemplary English Windsor chairs of all forms and periods, most of which were made in or near the Thames Valley, lent by public and private collections.
The term 'Windsor' chair can be firmly traced back to 1720 and the exhibition includes what is thought to be the earliest surviving Windsor chair, made around 1715 and now in the Temple Newsam Collection, alongside others chosen to illustrate the wide range of styles that fall under the Windsor umbrella.
All were produced prior to 19th century mass production, and include a selection of comb-, low- and bow-back examples, as well as painted garden Windsors known as Forest chairs, gothic-style chairs, mahogany 'cabinet-maker' examples and those attributed to the earliest known maker, John Pitt of Slough. To demonstrate this practical form's popularity in 18th century United States, the show also features one American chair, loaned by the American Museum, Bath.
National Trust admission charges and opening hours apply; for more details see www.windsorchairs2012.co.uk